Things have most definitely changed
The Circling Fin
Bob Dylan has done some amazing things with words. In his towering albums of the mid-60s, he unleashed a Niagara Falls of language, bearing image upon original image, the words building up to an unstoppable force that changed popular music forever. A typical lyric of that period finds two poets:
Fighting in the captain’s tower
While calypso singers laugh at them
And fishermen hold flowers
But, to quote the Cat in the Hat, that’s not all: one of Dylan’s more undersung talents is a knack for finding new resonance in simple words, a specialty of his more recent work.
Even straightforward titles such as ‘Everything is Broken’ and ‘Things Have Changed’ make their way into your mind, smooth as pebbles cast up on the Clew Bay shore, and lodge deep, re-emerging unexpectedly alongside poetry learned long ago and throw-away remarks you cannot recall but never forget.
In that phrase ‘Things Have Changed’, there is a searing simplicity that Robert Frost might have prized. Why? Because time winds on every minute of the day and the old gives ground and the new emerges and next thing you know you are a stranger in your own home town.
I happened to be back recently in the Dublin neighborhood where I went to school, now unrecognisable since one of the biggest shopping centres in Europe was built in the middle of it. I say ‘built’ but it feels more like it was dropped from the sky, a set of gargantuan dice hollowed out to accommodate escalators and sushi bars and boutiques the size of early cathedrals.
The only map showed the retailer layout. The old town was gone, effaced as completely as the Viking settlement at Wood Quay. Which direction was my old school; which way was up? I didn’t know, but I had no trouble finding an Americano for myself between the synchronised fountains and an outdoor video screen larger than the front of my house.
‘Things Have Changed’: a town you’ve stopped in every year for years on end is bypassed, and you never again flirt with that waitress whose name you never got...
‘Things Have Changed’: a friend from school seems to have bodily beamed themselves into Facebook, never to breathe earthly air again...
‘Things Have Changed’: that joke you’ve always told isn’t funny anymore and now might get you into trouble with the law or, even worse, Joe Duffy...
As years pass in a family, a community, or a nation, things will shift, sometimes imperceptibly, until one day new mores stand revealed. And yet, as we all know, some things NEVER change. Seneca, the Roman philosopher, was protesting materialism and the excessive amount of marble in people’s houses two thousand years ago, remarks you might have overheard more recently in the public houses of Ireland. That was until the Credit Crunch and Euro crisis came along, and now ‘Things Have Changed’ yet again.
As Dylan himself once cautioned: “Don’t speak too soon, for the wheel’s still in spin.”
Fin Keegan is a writer based in Westport. This column is based on his weekly radio essay, heard on WRFM radio, and online at thecirclingfin.com.